Michael Foot had a remarkable capacity for passionate commitment. But his zealousness was far more channelled towards his championing of great social causes than pettiness or spite towards political opponents
There was a core of selflessness about the man, and a lack of deviousness which attracted devotion among colleagues. His rather gentle demeanour ‘at rest’ contrasted with an incandescent fury in his public debates. Almost always his fury was directed at injustice rather than against the unjust. He is rightly regarded as one of the great political orators of the 20th Century.
In leadership terms he was untouched by modern concerns for image and identity. His notorious disregard for personal appearance was hardly calculated. It was more than coincidence that his most serious political defeat was by Margaret Thatcher, a leader who had an obsessive regard for image projection.
My personal recollections of Michael Foot are of someone who communicated a Ghandi-like unworldlyness. His was an idealism which earned him the reputation of being utterly sincere in beliefs that were often unpopular. His commitment to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which he helped found would be an example.
There are historical links with two other passionate socialist politicians, Nye Bevan and Neil Kinnock. All three served and were revered in the South Wales mining communities. Foot like Kinnock was all commitment. But it was Bevan, the wiliest of the three who achieved high office and brought about the greatest changes. Foot turned down an offer to serve in Harold Wilson’s government; Kinnock, like Michael Foot, was also defeated by Margaret Thatcher in his bid for power.
Bevan’s contributions to the founding of the National Health Service required compromises in the interests of the wider goal – as he rather gleefully put it requiring that he ‘stuffed the mouths of the doctors with gold’. Michael, like his devoted acolyte Neil Kinnock, would have exhausted himself and the doctors in his quest to elevate their thoughts away from such base metal.